Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Marble boats and fried scorpions

We've done it! Tonight we ate scorpion and silkworm on a stick. The former was just a crispy shell and the silkworm so disgusting that it did not go down the throat but straight out into a rubbish bin. Crispy on the outside, squishy inside. Awful! In fact all of the street food that we ate along Dongfuwen Street tonight was bad.

It was an unpleasant end to an otherwise good day. In the morning we started walking towards the Forbidden City. I found the Lonely Planet China book to be too big to carry around for city use, so we purchased an LP Beijing City Guide from the Wangfujing Foreign Book store. You need to ask at the information counter where they are hidden.

Breakfast was purchased from a street vendor selling pancakes topped with egg, spring onions and chilli paste. Delicious. At one point the vendor ran out of batter in the middle of cooking a pancake and one of his customers popped into the booth and continued cooking her breakfast!

We then changed our mind and decided to go to the Summer Palace instead. This involved three different metro lines and a taxi ride. The taxis are scary, weaving across the road, narrowly missing other cars and pedestrians. Fortunately, the traffic is slow, unlike in Sydney.

Walking around the Summer Palace was a very pleasant way to spend the day. Crowds were few, allowing us to wander without constantly running into tour groups. We watched musicians and dancers perform on stage, playing bells and drums. It's a long hike up the hill to the Tower of Fragrant Buddha, past Tibetan style architecture, but visually worth it.

I wish that we had time to walk around the lake, across the many stone bridges. Instead we walked to the famous marble boat. It wasn't as impressive as its reputation would suggest. The boat does not actually float, but then neither can it sink, a good omen for China. The Lonely Planet states that the boat was built using money earmarked for modernisation of the Chinese navy, but according to the television documentary Around the World in 80 Treasures the boat already existed before the Dowager Empress Cixi's reign, but that she had had it redecorated with paddle steamer wheels to represent modernity. She sounds like a nasty piece of work, does Cixi.

Another taxi ride took us to Jingshan Park. We ate a delicious beef and vegetable noodle soup and pork and shallot dumplings for lunch in a small shop. Basic, but very tasty. Then it was on the back of a trishaw for a tour of the hutongs. The rider's grip of English was basic, but he really tried.

The hutongs were not as impressive from street level as they appeared looking down upon them from the train. However, it was a very pleasant way to spend an hour. The guide stopped us outside on hutong and an old lady showed us around for a fee of RMB20 per person. She did not speak English, but had descriptions written on cards. Expensive, but interesting and she seemed nice.
We had to go to an ATM when we realised we didn't have enough money to pay the guide. We are so unfamiliar with living in a cash society now.

Rather than catch a taxi, we decided to walk back to the hotel from our location. On the way we stopped in at Jingshan Park, climbing yet another hill to another pagoda. Wonderful view of the Forbidden City.

And so it was that we arrived back at the food stalls along Dongfuwen Street and learned that not all Beijing food is delicious.

Off to walk the Great Wall tomorrow.